Coulter Pine, Pinus coulteri D. Don


Also known as the California Coulter pine, Big-cone pine, Nut pine, and Pitch pine, is native to California.  It is a slow growing species, reaching only 20 feet in 20 years.  In optimal sites, it can grow as tall as 80 feet with a trunk diameter of 1-3 feet.  Root depth is about 40 inches.  The bark is grey on young trees, becoming dark purplish-brown or black with thick, scaly, broad ridges.  Stiff, blue-green to grey-green needles are 3 bundled and about 10-12 inches long.  The cones are the star of this tree.  Weighing in at up to 5 pounds each, they are the heaviest pine cones in the world.  Growing to 10 inches long, they have thick, woody, narrow and sharp scales that curve up like a claw.  Coulter pine cones occur in whorls of 4 and persist (stay on tree) for 5-6 years. 
Each contain many large, edible, brown seeds .8 inches in diameter.  The crown varies in open and forested sites but typically is dense, broad and rounded.  The life span of Coulter Pine is moderate and most reach at least 100 years of age.


Most often found on steep south facing slopes between elevations of 500-7,000 feet, the Coulter pine prefers deep, well-drained, acidic soils.  Moisture requirements vary between moist and dry for the soil but it does require 35-60 inches of rain annually and it has a low drought tolerance.  Soils tend to be of medium texture, gravelly, or loamy.  The minimum temperature for survival is 12
°F and needs 220 frost free days. Large trees are resistant to low and moderately severe fires.

Trees of North America- A guide to field identification-a Golden Field Guide from St. Martin's Press © 2002 By C. Frank Brockman p.30

The Encyclopedia of North American Trees by Sam Benvie. Firefly Books Ltd., 2000 Buffalo, NY © 2000 Sam Benvie p.165

USDA, NRCS. 2011. The PLANTS Database (<>, 22 August 2011). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Cope, Amy B. 1993. Pinus coulteri. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2011, August 22].
Photo citation: © 1995 Saint Mary's College of California
State List: CA

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Native to southern and the central coast of California
Cones of the Coulter Pine have long slender upcurved sharp scales that look more like claws than scales
Map courtesty USDA NRCS PLANTS Database
Coulter pines have the heaviest pine cones in the world! Each one can weigh as much as 5 pounds!
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Uses include lumber, nursery products, pulpwood and veneer.  Coulter pine also makes an excellent landscape tree through all stages of its life but should be given ample space to grow.  It is better suited for recreational areas like parks rather than typical residential settings.

Wild life note- the females of a southern race of Whiteheaded Woodpeckers feed almost exclusively on insects found on the lower trunks and the males eat seeds from the cones.